With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn't far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with tight end Rico Gathers.
What's Been Good: Overall, Gathers has come a long way from 2016 when Dallas drafted him as a raw talent who hadn't played football since the eighth grade. Back healthy after spending the 2017 season on injured reserve, Gathers appeared in 15 of 16 games plus two playoff appearances (and might have been active for the regular-season opener too if not for his arrest one week earlier for misdemeanor marijuana possession, an incident that ultimately did not jeopardize his spot on the team). He caught the first three passes of his career for 45 yards in 2018 and showed value as a blocker for league rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott. Gathers' 6-6, 282-pound frame is simply hard for defensive linemen to move.
What's Been Bad: Again, it's all about perspective here given Gathers' time away from football. But to this point he hasn't found significant snaps on offense – he appeared in 146 of a possible 1,079 snaps – and lost playing time to fellow young tight ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz after veteran starter Geoff Swaim injured his wrist in late November. Gathers still has improvement to make as a receiver and handling the down-to-down responsibilities of the tight end position.
2018 Highlight: Gathers and quarterback Dak Prescott just missed on a couple of red zone opportunities last season, but the 25-year-old tight end did help set up Dallas for a field goal Oct. 7 at Houston when he hauled in a career-best 32-yard catch and run. Lining up as a blocker, he slipped behind the defense for the reception and rumbled for another 10 yards, showing the combo of speed and strength that got him drafted in the sixth round despite his inexperience.
What's Next: Gathers is under contract until 2020 when he becomes a restricted free agent. Swaim's a free agent to be, so there might be opportunity for more snaps. But it's also possible the Cowboys look for help in free agency or this year's draft, which looks relatively deep at tight end. Regardless, Gathers will have to show more development to win a competition this summer.
Rico Gathers earned a spot on offense after losing a year of critical development, but what's next for the 25-year-old tight end in 2019?
Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: I usually have a pretty good feel in which direction a player might go when given the opportunity. I always try and factor in ability and learning curve especially when the player is young. I quite honestly had no idea when it came to Rico Gathers in this case. There were flashes of brilliance mixed in with the mental mistakes that gave me a cause for pause. As impressive as Gathers' physical traits were, the mental side of the game just wasn't there. The lost 2017 season was a big blow to his development and it took him time to overcome that. The coaches were in a tough spot with him. Their record wasn't good, and do you play a project player to try and dig out? It wasn't until Geoff Swaim's own injury where Gathers got those extra snaps and you noticed a marginal improvement. Gathers might not have been a pass catching option but the mental side of his game did improve and you began to see the staff trust him more.